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Slapped with the Fat Tax

July 21, 2008

No, I don’t live in Japan where they come and measure your waistline and tax you for excess inches of fat.  Washington state deems my car fat. Washington state has a fat tax on cars over 4,000 pounds, which Grunhilde Audi is, slightly, because she’s safe, not because she’s big. She’s just a station wagon, after all, and slithers into compact parking spaces with finesse and aplomb. She girds my slight frame in a couple of tons of steel and has heavy-duty suspension and things cars should have. The tax is not new, but I only became aware of it this month when I registered Grunhilde for the first time. My previous cars evidently were under 4,000 pounds.  I shudder to reflect upon my former peril.

But $30 tabs are history for most Washington drivers. Dwellers of urban areas of King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties will see, if they haven’t already, the new value-based RTA (Regional Transit Authority) tax. The Legislature passed a no-dicker value formula based on straight depreciation from the new price of the car, regardless of the price paid, and specifically confesses the value is not intended to be an estimate of market value.

The purpose of the RTA tax is to redistribute money that urban owners of private vehicles earn to Sound Transit. While some funds might actually go into HOV lanes and other highway improvements, the RTA emphasizes “riders,” not “drivers,” and is very large on developing driving alternatives. While most Easterners would likely be comfortable with this, Westerners used to be people who actively drove, rather than passively rode, and who required less from government when it came to managing basic things in life, like getting around. But the West has long since been invaded by transit industry captains who consider urban owners of private vehicles anachronisms; they are constantly villainizing them and thinking up ways to get them out of their cars.

It’s an old idea and not a particularly good one, to assess car owners for public transit. People with a certain value set are required to underwrite the values of other people, to no real advantage.

Nor is it a particularly good idea to penalize personal vehicles by weight for their road use. Heavier cars use more gas and pay their way in gas taxes. At 37.5 cpg, Washington has the fifth-highest gas tax in the nation, led by California, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois.

But of course, government can get a raise any time it wants one, for any or no reason, and its wages have never been linked to its merit, any more than they are to my weight.

Does Grunhilde look <i>fat</i> to you?

Does Grunhilde look fat to you?

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5 Comments
  1. Roger in Seattle permalink
    July 21, 2008 7:04 pm

    And the weight fee for a car over 4,000 lbs is a grand total of $10 more than for a car under 4,000 lbs.

    No wonder you omitted this salient fact from your post; kinda takes your argument down, doesn’t it?

    And it’s not Big Government that’s cracking down on driving in urban areas at rush hour — it’s your neighbors who don’t want to see thousands more houses and stores torn down to build the new freeway lanes necessary to accommodate all the driving that would occur in a city without effective public transit. Not to mention the billions of $$$$$ (yes Your Tax Dollars!) necessary to build that type of urban freeway network.

  2. July 21, 2008 8:53 pm

    Roger,

    I did not intentionally omit the salient fact; I didn’t find it at the time. Cross-referencing the statutes did not provide any numbers. It’s at the DOL site, not in the RCW. I stand corrected. Here’s the link to the schedule of weight fees: http://www.dol.wa.gov/vehicleregistration/feechartvehweight.pdf You are correct; there is a $10 difference between 0-4,000 lbs. and 4001-6000 lbs. There. Happy? My point still stands, that weight is a poor way to assess a tax for road use, because it is redundant given the gas tax.

    Given the blight along the existing freeways, I think we’d see neighbors on both sides of the argument. It isn’t like there aren’t thousands of unsold new houses and retail spaces around here.

    And I have no problem with transit; my problem is with allocating the burden of its cost to motorists instead of the general tax base. Why the cost basis penalty? Why the weight penalty when the gas tax correlates to fuel consumption, and fuel consumption correlates to vehicle weight? Are these rational bases or policy cliches?

  3. July 21, 2008 9:11 pm

    Roger, you are right the base rate is only $10 more. $53.75 vs. $43.75. http://www.dol.wa.gov/vehicleregistration/fees.html

    But you missed the point about the RTA tax.

  4. July 22, 2008 7:27 am

    Vic, it’s the same link as the one I cited; mine goes right to the table. That’s ok, yours goes to the information page.

    The increments look kind of arbitrary, too. They start out with a $10 increase, then go up $2, sometimes $11…

    And it might be “only” $10 more for a 4,000+ lb. car ($20), but it’s still 100% more than the fee for a car of exactly 4,000 lb. or less ($10).

    The legislative backround cited all sorts of “now class, be reminded that the voters want $30 tabs” blather. And we do have $30 tabs. And then there’s the weight fee add-on, and the RTA tax add-on, and the old familiar $3.00 filing fee add-on–we can’t possibly expect agencies to file things on what we already pay them for what they are mandated to do. And I can’t account for the $0.75 that was part of my total. My RTA tax was a round dollar amount. Must be the tip.

  5. brooke permalink
    April 3, 2009 3:50 pm

    I have never had to pay this coming from snohomish county into pierce. But my increase was not just $10 or $12. I had to pay a $90 or so just to the RTA tax.

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